Reading: The Puzzler

Posted: reading

Talking about The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs.

If you can ignore Jacobs musings on the virtues of puzzling (which is, despite the book's subtitle, mercifully light), The Puzzler offers some entertaining stories about puzzle fanaticism. Just don't go in expecting much else.

Each chapter is about a blog-post's worth of content that follows a formula common to every puzzle in the book. Most interesting are Jacobs's explorations into puzzling esoterica, e.g. Kryptos or the MIT Mystery Hunt. Although the formula gets tiring quickly, Jacobs keeps it alive by offering up historical puzzles that the reader can peruse on their own terms.

None of what Jacobs provides would be so egregious if his tone and humor weren't representative of the lowest common denominator of The New York Times readers. The repertoire of jokes at Jacobs disposal is seemingly limited to the political and social circumstances of 2020, a time I'd much rather forget than reminisce with the author's patronizing guidance.

Moreover, his grand ideas on the applicability of puzzles to everyday life are marred by his inclusions of "nerd culture" stereotypes. At one point Jacobs asks a Rubik's Cube aficionado whether his "Rubik's Cube renown led to him dating the head cheerleader" (31).

Ultimately The Puzzler is a disappointing read. Perhaps if the book were instead a series of blog posts I would be more forgiving to its content and meandering lack of purpose. But viewed as a whole, the book doesn't justify its own existence.

tl;dr: read Rex Parker instead.